Paul Lewis / Santiago

Manufacturer to concentrate on stretched, shrunk and extended-range versions of A380

Airbus is planning to focus product development on further expansion of its widebody family rather than its narrowbody aircraft.

The stretch A380-900 and shrink -700 versions of the baseline A380-800 are to be given priority, while nearer term, the company pushes ahead with an A330-200F freighter and a -500 replacement for the A300-600. "I think that what we are going to look at, because of where the big dollars lie, are developments of the A380," says John Leahy, Airbus chief commercial officer. "The A380 is not one aircraft. It's a family, it comes with a stretch, the A380-900, and we have a shrink version, the A380-700. That follows the format of the development we had for the A320 family," he says.

The A380-900 will build on the planned 10,400km (5,600nm) range, increased gross-weight A380-800F launched by FedEx Express. Compared to the A380-800, which will accommodate 555 passengers in a three-class configuration, the stretch will have an extra 100-seats. The A380-700 will be sized around 465-seats, positioning it between the -800 and the 400-seat Boeing 747-400.

Leahy offers no timetable for the planned development of the stretch or shrink, which had been designated the A380-200 and-50, respectively. Both versions will follow in the wake of the A380-800 and -800F due to enter airline service in early 2006 and 2008, respectively. Extended range variants are also on the drawing board.

Airbus continues to seek an A330-200F launch customer and reveals that it has been discussing the freighter and existing passenger version with LanChile for the last 18 months. The airline operates a mix of Boeing 767-300s and -300Fs, but is looking at commonality benefits with its 25 A320 and seven A340-300s in service or on order.

The European company is also continuing to look at a further shrink of the A330, the launch of which has been stalled for years. "We're looking at the A330-200F and at something smaller than the A330-200 to replace the A300-600 and these projects are still on the drawing board," says Leahy.

Airbus rules out a further stretch of the A321, previously called the A322, and says it will not make a decision on the future of its A320 narrowbody family until Boeing decides on a replacement for the Next Generation 737. "The A320, even with minor clean-up and upgraded engine, would probably be sufficient against a fly-by-wire 737 next generation," says Leahy.


Source: Flight International